“Woman of Light: A Novel” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine is about betrayal, love, and fate. It tells an Indigenous Chicano family’s story that spans five generations. It’s a work of fiction that discusses Indigenous and Latinx roots that aren’t commonly showcased in mainstream media.
The book is described as: “Woman of Light is a transfixing novel about survival, family secrets, and love—filled with an unforgettable cast of characters, all of whom are just as special, memorable, and complicated as our beloved heroine, Luz.”
To understand more about the book’s origins – from the fiction aspect of it to the non-fiction happenings that include the Ku Klux Klan march of 1934 – BELatina News spoke with Fajardo-Anstine.
Here’s how the conversation went.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I’m a writer from Denver, Colorado who grew up in a large family of seven siblings. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a child. My family is of mixed Chicano, Indigenous, European and Filipino ancestry and I come from a long line of storytellers. I’m a lover of the outdoors and the mountains and I’m the 2022/2024 Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University.
How long did it take you to write ‘Woman of Light’?
The idea for “Woman of Light” first came to me over a decade ago, starting with the character Luz, a seventeen-year-old tea leaf reader of Indigenous and Latinx descent. She is inspired by my Auntie Lucy who was abandoned by her European coal miner father in the 1920s. Her life had been very difficult, but it was also filled with glamor and beauty. I wanted this novel to also be filled with light.
What is a significant way your book changed since its first draft?
“Woman of Light” always began with Luz, our protagonist of light. While she was inspired by my Auntie Lucy and my great-grandmother (both of whom the novel is dedicated to), she also felt so wholly herself and fascinating that I could hear echoes of her for many years before the book resembled its final form. The book started in her first-person voice, but over the years grew into a wider perspective as I got closer to the other characters in the novel.
What was the most difficult part of the writing process for your book?
Many of the scenes in “Woman of Light” required extensive historical research. A chapter that comes to mind is “Shelter from the Storm,” which details a horrifying Ku Klux Klan march through downtown Denver in 1934. While I grew up hearing stories of the Klan and the ways in which they terrorized my ancestors in Denver, in order to fully grasp the horror of that march I had to do some fairly difficult research. I noticed in several archival databases throughout Colorado that Klan memorabilia was accessible to researchers. I was shocked when examining physical Klan robes at the Denver Public Library that they were many sizes, even some to fit babies and children. There is a detail in “Woman of Light” where the protagonist, Luz, looks into the faces of young mothers with their babies during that hideous Klan march.
What prompted you to write about an indigenous Chicano family?
Most of the characters are based on my own family and ancestors, like Diego who is a nod to one of my great uncles, a marvelous snake charmer. I wanted these characters to feel fully alive, so I did years of research in archives and museums, but also within the homes of my elders throughout Colorado. I asked questions, I learned their stories, and in “Woman of Light” I hope to honor them.
Who did you write “Woman of Light” for?
I wrote “Woman of Light” for myself, my community, and my family, and for book lovers everywhere. This didn’t come easy for me. I dropped out of both high school and my first graduate program. I had many dead-end jobs, bad bosses, and periods of depression and struggle in my 20s. I also had beautiful moments of inspiration and happiness.
What do you think resonates the most with readers?
I think many readers are interested in roots, the concept of who we are as a people, and where we come from. “Woman of Light” provides a deeply unique discussion of roots, and from a perspective that often isn’t included in books and media.
Can someone take your book to understand the importance of ancestral roots and why it matters to protect these roots?
Throughout “Woman of Light” storytelling is used both as entertainment, but also as a vehicle for cultural survival. My writing is guided by the need to feel culturally seen and acknowledged as a vital part of the American identity.
For much of my life, I felt invisible and as if the hardships of my ancestors were forgotten. With this novel, I wanted to know how history has informed my existence. I wanted to understand how my Indigenous, Chicano, Filipino, and European ancestors met each other and fell in love, essentially how did I become a person?
My hope is that “Woman of Light” will inspire others to research their own family backgrounds and help honor their ancestral roots.
Wow. This book is, without a doubt, a must-read.